Rediscovering Darwin for Cooperative Theory

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* Book: Rediscovering Darwin. By David Loye. Romanes Press, 2018.



Frank Visser:

"To conclude, Loye's main thesis is that we have erroneously applied Darwin's first theory about natural evolution (from the Origin) to society, where we should instead have been inspired by his second model, of cultural evolution (from Descent)." (


1. Frank Visser:

"In 2009, the year the 150 year anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species (1859) was celebrated world-wide, I invited David Loye, an independent Darwin scholar now in his nineties, to write an essay for Integral World comparing Darwin and Wilber.[1] Loye is co-founder of the General Evolution Research Group (GERG), together with Eisler, Corliss, Chaisson, Varela, Csanyi, Banathy, which was set up in Budapest around 1984 by Ervin Laszlo and others. In 2015 Loye got interviewed by Wilber for Integral Life[2], to which I responded in an essay "Duplicating Darwin".[3] In his recent book The Religion of Tomorrow (2017) Wilber praised Loye's work, concluding "we now have Darwin on our side" and mentioned Loye was working on a book called Integral Darwin. In my 7-part review of Wilber's tome, I devoted one part to this discussion, adding a long footnote about the selfish gene and its intended meaning.[4] Because I couldn't locate this book Integral Darwin anywhere online, except for some first pages, I contacted Loye, and his publisher kindly sent me a review copy. It had been retitled as Rediscovering Darwin and was published in February 2018 by the Romanes Press.

Loye's main thesis is that we know only the first half of Darwin's theory, much to the detriment of our world, which is suffering from violence, sexism, pollution and all other modern ailments, and we need the other half to save that world, leading, among others, to a more egalitarian view of male/female relationships. The first half is spelled out in Darwin's On the Origin of Species (1859): the world is a jungle in which only the strongest survive. In modern discourse this has been translated into social Darwinism, the selfish gene, and might makes right. Much less known, says Loye, is that in The Descent of Man (1871), in which human evolution (and sexual selection) was dealt with, a much more positive worldview is sketched: humanity can only evolve by moral progress, increased compassion for others and the refinement of our character. Only when that message is heard, Loye believes, will our world situation improve and can a wholesale nuclear or climate change based annihilation be avoided.


Loye's latest book, which summarizes his thesis in engaging writing. The 177 page book starts with an astonishing 13 pages of rave reviews, presumably commenting on his earlier works, by authorities of various kinds: I count a psychologist, a historian of evolution (Richards), Ken Wilber, Ervin Laszlo, a mathematician, a psychologist, a mental health scientist, a brain scientist, a humanistic psychologist, a radio host, a biologist (Salthe), a psychologist, a neural network theorist, a futurist, a nutritional activist, a nanotechnologist, an integralist (McIntosh), a film producer, a singer, an evolutionary visionary activist, a crusading moral economist, a Chair of graduate studies, a renaissance scholar, a biophysicist, a psychologist, a futurist, a biologist (Maturana), another futurist, a sociologist, a systems philosopher, and a magazine founder. An impressive list, but with few exceptions no evolutionary theorists proper. So this is obviously Loye's own network of scientists and philosophers.

Under mysterious Cold War circumstances Loye was secretly invited to join a group of scientists in Budapest, who were enamored by the recent advances in chaos and complexity science. Self-organization, autopoiesis and autocatalysis were keywords in that area. It was emphasized that we are not the passive products or external forces, but active agents in our own evolutionary process. With this mindset, Loye reads in Descent how Darwin can be seen as a precursor of these recent advances in science. When he describes how biological variation is much more "on the constitution of the organism than on the nature of the conditions to which it has been subjected", Loye sees self-organization at work. Turning to chaos theory—which states that small changes can have large and unforeseen consequences, the so-called "butterfly effect"—he quotes Darwin who describes "correlated variation" in saying "when slight variations in any one part occur, and are accumulated through natural selection, other parts become modified." This seems to me altogether far-fetched. Of course variation will (in part) be independent of the environment, and changes will be interrelated, due to genes being on the same stretches of a chromosome.

Loye laments that these recent advances are being picked up by the social sciences more easily than by the evolutionary sciences—which is quite ironic given that their principles supposedly apply to evolution at large. Could it be that the social sciences study human beings as active creators and codifiers of culture, rather than slow results of natural evolutionary processes? Cultural and biological evolution surely follow their own trajectories? Loye implies that Origin deals with biological evolution and Descent with human cultural and future evolution, but this makes me pause. Isn't Charles Darwins The Descent of Man primarily a treatise on, well... the descent of man? Wasn't the primary agenda of Descent to argue for a fully "lowly origin" of mankind, being the descendants of tree-inhabiting apes, a most shocking truth in the days of Darwin? And more specifically, Wallace, his co-discoverer of natural selection, didn't believe humans were purely the result of natural processes—some spiritual intervention was needed to explain their mental capacities. Darwin emphatically rejected that claim.

Two camps have emerged that battle over the legacy of Darwin, Loye opines: the gatekeepers, who want to defend a narrow interpretation of Darwin at all costs, and the gatebreakers who want to widen its scope. Among the gatekeepers he lists: the Neo-Darwinians of the Modern Synthesis, who see random variation and blind chance as paramount, the "super-neos" of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, and the anti-evolution creationists, who deny evolution in any form. This seems to me a rather reductionistic view of the field of evolutionary science. We have many more schools of thought ranging from symbiosis to epigenetics and from group selection to evo-devo these days. In the opposite camp Loye sees: Darwins disciple Romanes, Julian Huxley, the human potential movement in psychology, evolutionary systems science (Laszlo), Eastern spirituality (Wilber) and feminism (Eisler)—all of them are opposed to the "selfish-gene paradigm" of orthodox science.


is it fair to jump from the notion of the selfish gene to the ills of society when Dawkins has made it explicit that the important word in that expression is gene and not selfish?[4] All this buzz about selfishness is a major distraction from the thesis that whatever matters in evolution is what can genetically be passed on to next generations. And both selfish and altruistic behavior can have a genetic component. Furthermore, the simple dichotomy of a masculinist Origin and a more feminist Descent overlooks that sexual selection, introduced in Descent, not only involves female choice, but also, and most visibly, male competition, often violent, between males, or for the favor of the females. I don't think sea cows with huge harems are a good example of feminism in nature!

More to the point: Loye also mentions Frans de Waal, author of Good Natured (1996) as evidence that we are not selfish by nature, but to the contrary, social and moral animals." (

2. Ken Wilber:

"David Loye's is one of the few voices so desperately needed in the Darwin debates. Not only does he introduce "Eros" into the picture in a rational, sane, and supportable fashion, he makes the whole evolutionary theory hang together as "Eros-in-action," or, if you want, "Spirit-in-action" or "Love-in-action." It's been clear for quite some time now that the standard neo-Darwinian synthesis can in no way account for the rise from dirt to Shakespeare, and new, believable theories are desperately needed. David Loye's is such a theory. The orthodox will cringe, and go on failing to explain evolution while bad-mouthing all other attempts, the Creative Intelligence folks will correctly spot all the missing holes in Darwinian theory and then-in an entirely unsupported move-fill in those holes by plugging them with Jahweh, a ridiculous move if ever there was one. The holes are supported by the data, Jahweh is not. David Loye's is both spotting the holes, then filling them with something like a self-organization principle, which is a drive to higher levels of organization warranted by the data itself. Call that extra push "self-organization," or "Eros," or "Spirit," or "Love," or what you will, but it is fully justified by empirical data and scientific research. I know of no one doing this as thoroughly and carefully as David Loye. Read him, it's one of the most important topics alive today." (